Utah Gov. Gary Herbert emphasized the importance of education, the strength of Utah’s economy and the challenges associated with population growth during his 11th and final State of the State address on Jan. 29.
“Tonight as I look out at you, at the dawn of a new decade, I’m in awe at the infinite possibilities,” Herbert said.
Herbert focused much of his address on education, saying that it has been the top priority for the his administration.
“Our goal to have the best education system in America is clearly within reach,” he said.
Herbert said working together, supporting teachers and appropriately funding higher education will be key to improving Utah education.
Herbert also mentioned recent legislative efforts to increase school counselor accessibility, fight bullying and make mental health resources available to students.
In a Democratic response to Herbert’s remarks, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, pointed out that while Utah teachers and families work hard to provide a good education, their resources are limited.
“Utah currently ranks 51st in the nation in per-pupil student funding. This is unacceptable!” she said in a statement. “Utah cannot remain competitive unless we take real and lasting action to invest in the future of our children.”
Herbert said that bringing Utah’s economy out of the recession was a top priority when he began his term in 2010.
“Today, as a result of our efforts, we now have the healthiest and most diverse economy in the United States of America,” he said.
Herbert noted that the economic prosperity of rural communities is a top priority because more than 25% of Utahns live in rural areas. Many state jobs have moved from the Wasatch Front, he said, and the Department of Workforce Services projects the creation of 25,000 new jobs in rural Utah by the end of the year.
Responding to Herbert’s address, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said that income inequality is a growing problem in Utah. “As Utah booms, the benefits of that success are not reaching everyone,” she said. “The middle class continues to shrink and those with low incomes struggle just to make ends meet while expenses continue to rise.”
Utah’s rising population growth presents both challenges and opportunities, Herbert said. Utah is projected to reach a population of 5.8 million by 2065, he said, and transportation, air quality and the housing market will all be affected.
Herbert said Utah needs to “boldly reimagine” its transportation infrastructure to accommodate growth. He mentioned that double-tracking the Frontrunner would make it possible for trains to come every 15 minutes.
“We should make commuting by transit as easy as commuting by cars,” he said.
Herbert said that addressing air quality and the housing market will also be important areas of focus in planning for the future.
In response to the governor’s address, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Highland, also emphasized the need to address Utah’s air quality.
“Air pollution is one of the single greatest challenges we face in the coming decade, and Democrats will continue to propose common-sense measures to clear our air,” she said.
Herbert reflected on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States, recalling that it was Seraph Young, a Utah woman, who was the first woman to vote in the United States after Utah enfranchised women in 1870. He then asked all the female elected officials to stand.
“You’re proving that a Utah woman’s place is in the House and in the Senate,” he said. “We need more of you.”
Herbert also mentioned the contributions of refugees, calling them “modern pioneers,” and noted how state programs have helped Utah refugees become a part of the economy.
He also pointed to the efforts of Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in addressing homelessness, including the creation of three new centers to help homeless individuals.
“These centers are changing peoples’ lives,” he said.
Herbert concluded his address by garnering some laughs.
“May God to continue to bless what I think is His favorite state,” he said.